NY Times: Two-week suspension for Lahyani

As reported exclusively by the New York Times Tuesday, veteran umpire Mohamed Layhani has been suspended for two weeks by the ATP Tour.

And the suspension is without pay.

Click here to read more details in the Times.

The ATP is Lahyani’s main employer, just as the WTA is the principal employer of its five full-time umpires.

The umpires on both tours have crossover to the Grand Slam events, which are run under the aegis of the International Tennis Federation.

(The ITF has its own staff of full-time umpires).

And so, while the well-documented incident involving Nick Kyrgios didn’t happen on the ATP’s watch, they made that decision to “protect the integrity of the Tour”, per the Times.

Not the first rodeo for Lahyani

If the suspension seems harsh, it may be because the Swedish umpire has priors. He has gotten personally involved with players who were struggling on court on previous occasions.

In 2011, Lahyani gave a heartfelt pep talk to a struggling Gaël Monfils during a match in Valencia.

And in 2016, he offered similar advice to another underachieving talent, Bernard Tomic.

In both cases, Lahyani didn’t get down from his chair. But the actions were otherwise very similar.

Did Lahyani’s bosses at the ATP sit him down after either of those incidents and tell him he had overstepped his job description? If they did not, perhaps Lahyani felt they were okay with it by default. To take that one step further, perhaps he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong.

If they did talk to him, and he disregarded that and decided to go rogue in his quest to help Kyrgios? The suspension would be more than deserved.

Asked about this very thing, ATP executive vice-president, rules and competition Gayle Bradshaw responded to tennis.life via email:

“We constantly communicate with our officials after each match. The decision made regarding Mohamed’s actions in the Kyrgios vs. Herbert (match) was based solely on the chair umpire actions in that match.”

Umpires in the spotlight

Lahyani

The Kyrgios situation has often been juxtaposed with the situation involving Serena Williams and ITF chair umpire Carlos Ramos in the women’s singles final.

It’s been used as a comparison. How Williams, a woman, was treated by Ramos as he enforced the rules. And before that, how deferential Lahyani was to Kyrgios, a male player who often acts up on court.

So perhaps the suspension is part of an overall strategy on the umpiring side to dispel that notion, by coming down on Lahyani for those actions.

Imagine that – the alphabet soup of tennis cooperating on something?

Nah, never mind. 

UPDATED: Kyrgios moves on, with an assist from Mo

NEW YORK – We will never know if the outcome of the second-round match between Nick Kyrgios and Pierre-Hugues Herbert would have been different, had high-profile umpire Mohamed Lahyani not intervened.

But he did. And not for the first time with a player struggling on court.

The 23-year-old Aussie was down a set and 0-3 in the second.

And after a fairly … pedestrian effort in that third game, he sat down.

And Lahyani came down from his chair to dispense what could best be described as a pep talk.

At worst, you could describe it as some on-court coaching – from a most unlikely and inappropriate source.

UPDATE: The USTA came out with another statement just before the start of play on Friday, confirming what everyone except them had already figured out. That’s really all they needed to do in this case.

Mo

“He said he liked me”

“We all know I had that moment in Shanghai where the referee said the same thing, It’s not good for the integrity of the sport, doesn’t have a good look. It happens in other sports, too. In soccer, if someone is being roughed, they get warned. If you keep doing this you get penalized. Same sort of thing,” Kyrgios said.

“I’m not sure it was encouragement. He said he liked me. I’m not sure if that was encouragement. He just said that it’s not a good look,” he added. “Look – I wasn’t feeling good. I know what I was doing out there wasn’t good. I wasn’t really listening to him, but I knew it wasn’t a good look. It didn’t help me at all. Like, I was down 5-2. If it was 3-0, and maybe if I would have come back and won six games in a row, fair enough. Didn’t help me at all.”

Kyrgios is splitting hairs because although the turnaround wasn’t immediate, it was comprehensive. From being a set and 2-5, the Aussie lost just four more games in the next 2 1/2 sets to advance 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-0 and set up a meeting with No. 2 seed Roger Federer.

Mo

Had he played for the next half hour the way he had played in the first set and a half, it might well have been over in straight sets against a solid opponent. Or maybe not. 

“I felt I played probably some of the best tennis I played in the third and fourth sets. My intent was a lot better. I was just more involved in the match,” Kyrgios said, pointing to the difficult weather conditions that got a little better after the first set and a half.

His next opponent, Federer, said Lahyani needed to stay put in his perch.

“It’s not the umpire’s role to go down from the chair. But I get what he was trying to do. He behaves the way he behaves. You as an umpire take a decision on the chair, do you like it or don’t you like it. But you don’t go and speak like that, in my opinion,” Federer said.

“I don’t know what he said. I don’t care what he said. It was not just about, ‘How are you feeling? Oh, I’m not feeling so well.’ Go back up to the chair. He was there for too long. It’s a conversation. Conversations can change your mindset. It can be a physio, a doctor, an umpire for that matter.”

The USTA responds

The initial statement from the USTA, though, let Lahyani off the hook. There may be more to come as the various powers-that-be look at it more closely.

That doesn’t appear to jibe with that everyone watched.

Try to remember the last time you saw an umpire get down from his chair and go check the “condition” of a player.

MoEven if there’s an acute injury, they nearly always stay up in their chairs while the doctor or physio tend to the player and dispense appropriate treatment. And this was not an acute injury; it wasn’t an injury of any kind.

And there is music playing on changeovers at pretty much every tournament these days. So if Lahyani were to give Kyrgios a heads’ up that he might have to sanction him if he didn’t start giving his “best effort” – not a long conversation – he probably doesn’t need to get down from the chair and get in his grill.

It also, as far as we know, is not the umpire’s job to determine whether a player needs medical attention, or to encourage him or her to seek it. 

As for the “treatment” from the physio on the next changeover, Kyrgios said in his press conference that there was no treatment.

“I didn’t call the trainer on. I just wanted some salt packets,” he said.

Lahyani has priors

Bernard Tomic in Sydney in 2016

Gaël Monfils in Valencia in 2011.

Something like what Ali Nilli did here, in Shanghai, when it was pretty blatant, would be more appropriate.

There was no getting down from the chair, no concern for his well-being. Just a pretty straight-up statement of fact.

Bad optics – especially in a wagering world

The point of all this is that while Lahyani – who is one of the better umpires out there, despite (and partly because of) his love for being part of the show – meant well, there are two players on the court.

If one player is seemingly intent on finishing his work day early – especially when he’s by far the higher ranked of the two – that’s all to the benefit of the opponent that day. For Herbert to make the third round of singles at the US Open is a big deal.

There is no on-court coaching on the ATP Tour, and no on-court coaching at all at Grand Slams. So if a player is flailing, it’s up to him or her to figure out a way to climb out of the abyss. That’s one of the beauties of an individual sport. 

And in Kyrgios’s case, he’s been known to just throw in the towel before. 

It is not up to the umpire to get involved in a way that could help one opponent – and thus by definition be a potential detriment to the other.

Here’s a relevant section in the list of a chair umpire’s duties (per the ITF):

No

In today’s climate, with betting on tennis the subject of a multi-million dollar investigation and at least a cursory effort ongoing to try to curb it, actions like this could make a chair umpire open to accusations that he was trying to help turn the match in Kyrgios’s favour.

That’s highly unlikely to be the case; few would doubt that Lahyani loves the sport and was coming from a good place. He just got carried away – again.

But it doesn’t matter what the intention was. Even the appearance of impropriety is not what the sport needs right now.

Herbert furious – but not at Kyrgios

The first person Herbert was mad at was himself – for not closing out the second set when he had the chance.

“I don’t know where he was for the first two sets. I know he was on court after when he started playing, when he kicked my ass and was much better than me,” Herbert said of Kyrgios.

But he felt Lahyani had overstepped.

“I think Mohamed, he’s actually a really good umpire. And I think he knows everybody. I think he cares for Nick. He cares for the show also because people were going after the first set. Everybody was there for the start. When they saw Nick in a bad mood, I would say, for the first two sets, they started going away,” he said. “I don’t know if something happened, if Mohamed would have said something or not, it wouldn’t have changed anything. That I cannot tell you. I just can tell you from that point Nick was playing much better.

“Actually, the umpire doesn’t have to talk to him at all. The only thing he can tell him is, ‘Yeah, pay attention, because if you continue like this, I’m going to give you a warning’. Something like this. They can tell him from the chair. He doesn’t need to go down. He doesn’t need to say the words he said on the video. I think this was not his job. I don’t think he’s a coach, he’s an umpire, and he should stay on his chair for that.”

Herbert allowed that the pep talk may have had no effect at all – that Kyrgios is good enough that if he just decided to start playing, the result might have been the same. But we’ll never know.

Later, upon getting wind of the USTA’s statement, Herbert issued one of his own.

Mo

(We’ll translate the original French version here, because the English version is a little rough).

Mo“Following my second-round defeat at the US Open against Nick Kyrgios, and all the controversy surrounding the actions of Mohamed Lahyani, allow me to give my version of events.

First thing, I didn’t hear the discussion between Lahyani and Nick during the match, and that event did not affect me personally.

For his part, Nick isn’t to blame because he didn’t ask for anything. What’s certain is that from that precise moment on, his behaviour changed. And after that, he pretty much dominated me.

However, after seeing the video, I’m angry at the umpire, who shouldn’t get down from his chair to talk to Nick to try to get him to listen to reason. Did that action have an impact? We’ll never know …

I’m even angrier about the USTA’s press release, and with the tournament management that is playing us for fools – trying to convince us that the umpire absolutely did not overstep his job description, while his words are audible on nearly every video.

To err is human but I await explanations – if not sanctions. When we players cross the line, we also face sanctions. 

Social media and cheerleading to end the day

Mo
Kyrgios’s last move of the day was to head out to support girlfriend Ajla Tomljanovic in her second-round match against Katerina Siniakova. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Next up, Kyrgios will have Roger Federer to prepare for. 

But after going on social media and giving some people some stick (including some he should probably leave alone) and receiving some in return from Andy Murray, he went out to play the supportive boyfriend.

Kyrgios’s girlfriend Ajla Tomljanovic was playing her second-round match later in the day against Katerina Siniakova. 

He wasn’t able to go out on court and give her a pep talk. But she almost pulled it off before going down 6-3, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (4).

Mo
As he does whenever he and his lady love play the same events, Kyrgios is on hand offering support. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Frantic Friday at Wimbledon: The Supporting Players

It was Friday the 13th. So it wasn’t a huge surprise that a few wacky events took place at Wimbledon.

But what transpired, from 1 p.m. when John Isner and Kevin Anderson walked onto Centre Court until 11:05 p.m., when Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic walked off with unfinished business, was beyond anyone’s imagination.i i

Chapter 4 is called The Supporting Players

WIMBLEDON – With short points, changeovers and time between points, there are plenty of opportunities for shots of people other than the two main characters during a six hour, 36-minute tennis match.

Front and centre among those highlighted was Justin Gimelstob.

A broadcaster, talent manager, television producer, student, father – and member of the ATP Tour player council – the 41-year-old American former player has no issues with putting himself front and centre in the business of tennis.

He gets a lot of flack for that on social media – never more so than on Friday.

Back on Team Isner

Gimelstob coached John Isner for a couple of years in 2015 and 2016. And he returned in 2018, although not in full-time role as he shares duties with David Macpherson.

Even back in their first iteration, Gimelstob was big on Isner hitting the ball harder within boundaries, returning harder, and coming to the net to finish points off.

That’s what the 33-year-old did this Wimbledon, and it nearly got him to the men’s singles final.

But it was Gimelstob’s performance in the player’s box, shown repeatedly on the television broadcasts, that had social media quite in a tizzy for awhile.

Dressed in a suit and tie with aviator glasses (next to the more tennis-attired Macpherson), Gimelstob was standing and pumping his first on virtually every point.

In fact, once, he stood up, pumped his right fist – while still holding on to the hand of his seated girlfriend with his left hand. That’s multitasking.

It also looked as though he and Isner were exchanging hand signals among other coaching methods which, as we all know, isn’t kosher.

As a member of the Player Council, for which Anderson is vice-president and to which Isner was just elected for a return term, Gimelstob cheering on one player at the expense of another is just another of those myriad conflicts of interest tennis seems to have little stomach to even address.

Never mind the coaching thing.

But, as Gimelstob pointed out to your Tennis.Life correspondent during a chat a few years ago, nothing in tennis prevents him from putting his fingers in as many pies as he can and until it does, he’ll keep doing it. Can’t argue with that chutzpah.

He has a lot of yellow cards in his file already, for things he’s said that way crossed the line. But he was probably loving every moment of it on Friday. 

Except for the ending, of course. 

Legends matches postponed

Gimelstob, paired with Brit Ross Hutchins, had legends matches scheduled the same day as the last two Isner singles matches. 

So both times, they had to postpone. He and Hutchins will play Xavier Malisse and Colin Fleming Saturday. And, with the round-robin format, with Gimelstob and Hutching at 1-1 and Malisse and Fleming at 2-0, it’s essentially a match for the title.

So Gimelstob may end up with the hardware after all.

Cicak, the marathon woman

supporting
Was she bored? Tired? Needing a comfort break? Annoyed? Cicak’s poker face was ON for the 6h36 men’s semifinal Friday.

Respected chair umpire Marija Čičak got the assignment for Anderson vs. Isner.

She had to know that it was going to be a butt-buster. But there’s no way she could have known just how much of a marathon it was going to be.

Hopefully she got some tips from fellow umpire Mohamed Lahyani, who was in the chair for all three days of the Isner vs. Mahut marathon back in 2010, which ended up 70-68 in the fifth set.

As far as we could tell, she never needed a bathroom break during the six hours and 36 minutes it took to determine a winner.

That kind of endurance requires a fair bit of liquids management.

It also requires a pretty comfortable perch to sit in.

If she was in any kind of distress, it never showed.

So Čičak gets the “best supporting actor” nod for Saturday.

We’ll give Gimelstob the Razzie.

Mrs. Isner – a trouper

supporting

Madison McKinley, who married John Isner last December, is seven months  pregnant with their first child.

Despite that, and no doubt rather uncomfortable, Mrs. Isner didn’t miss a moment of her husband’s valiant attempt to reach his first Grand Slam final.

She was kind of hard to notice, with Gimelstob front and centre in the Players’ box. 

But her support was truly an impressive thing.

It’s a good thing she never left. The match was so long – and so stressful – that her husband might well have wondered if she went into labor and headed off to the hospital while they were in the middle of the fifth set.

The BBC – spelling impaired

It was a long day for everyone.

But still, as the BBC put up a graphic showing now Novak Djokovic passed time of the time in the locker room waiting for his match with Rafael Nadal, they went full-out spelling fail on his Twitter handle.

supporting

You know that the legion of Djokovic fans thought this was a deliberate affront.

In truth, the “r” and “n” side by side can easily be mistaken for an “m”, if you look too quickly.

Still …

Video: Line umpires in training at Roland Garros

The news today about the changes in the criteria for U.S. Open ball persons to open the process up to more people reminded us of a neat activity during kids’ day at the French Open last month.

While a lot of the kids were out watching Rafael Nadal practice, or enjoying the afternoon entertainment inside Philippe-Chatrier, a lot of others were learning how to do another tennis job.

The tournament had a fairly creative idea: they had two French players play some practice sets on Court 4.

And they invited kids to come out and shadow a full complement of line umpires, who explained what to do, where to stand and how to stylishly bend, hands on knees, to guard their line.

If they accidentally sent one more on court than there were line umpires, no problem about the kid feeling left out. They just lifted him up into the umpire’s chair, and he got to call the score.

The line umpires were so cute and patient with the kids, who were getting right into it.

The ones who displayed the most aptitude got to “call” a match on one of the show courts at the end of the day.

(No, they didn’t have the players come up to them and challenge them to point out the right mark on the terre battue; wouldn’t want to scare them away on their first day!)

Here’s what it looked like.

Great tournament activity idea

All the tournaments should have something like this. 

Most kids can never hope to play professional tennis. But as long as they have good eyesight, there’s nothing to prevent them from going the officials’ route.

And with the ability to watch just about any match anywhere on the planet these days, a lot of the chair umpires are becoming rock stars in their own right.

You see them being asked for autographs all the time, as they walk around the grounds at tournaments.

And while many fans might not recognize Zarina Diyas or Ana Bogdan, Albert Ramos or Marton Fucscovics on sight, there’s a good chance they’ll spot Mohamed Lahyani, Kader Nouni or the swinging pony tail of Eva Asderaki-Moore.

umpires

Poor umpiring dooms Goffin

They say one bad line call shouldn’t affect the outcome of a tennis match. Because it’s only one point.

But a particularly egregious one early in David Goffin’s semi-final match against nine-time champion Rafael Nadal in Monte Carlo Saturday did change everything.

The ball was so far out that Goffin circled the mark and walked away, certain that when veteran chair umpire Cédric Mourier came down from to take a look, he would see it and quickly confirm the linesman’s call.

Except … he didn’t. Mourier appeared to find a different mark, and overruled.

Goffin was up a break, serving at 40-30 and 3-2 in the first set. The correct call would have given him a 4-2 lead. There was a long way to go but the Belgian, who upset Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals the previous day, would have continued to ride a wave of confidence.

Watch it here:

Instead, he got very upset. It was uncharacteristic, and clearly it affected him. After Nadal broke in that game, the crowd booed as the players went to sit down. After Nadal won the first set, they booed again. Goffin won just one more game the rest of the way as Nadal moved on to play countryman Albert Ramos-Viñolas in the final.

The Hawk-eye replay, used only for broadcast purposes during the clay-court events, clearly showed Mourier was way off base. As in, not even close.

Goffin

You could tell by Nadal’s unusually subdued reaction after the victory that he felt for the guy. But of course it’s not his job to call the lines – especially from an entire court’s distance away.

“When I start a match against Rafa, I know that I have to be 100 per cent focused, give 100 per cent mentally and physically. And it was a very good match at the beginning. I felt really good, there was a lot of intensity. And when you have (an umpiring) error like that, an event like that, it’s difficult. You see the mark … You try to get going again,” Goffin told the French media in Monte Carlo. “I know that I have to get back into it but it demands even more energy, it demands being able to step it up. But I couldn’t, because I was already at 110 per cent. It was without a doubt too much for me. Nadal is used to these big big matches, and he was able to step it up.”

Goffin said he didn’t have anything against Mourier. “He’s very nice, but he makes mistakes. He showed me something – I don’t know what! And I saw on his face that he was nervous, unsure. But for him, he has to stand by what he decided; he can’t change it. He tried to be a bit of an actor, playing a “sure of himself’ umpire. But hey, I’m not the type to complain for days and weeks. The match is over, I have to move on,” he said.

Nadal too far away

“The only strange thing was the reaction of the fans,” Nadal told El Español. He said that if it had happened on his side of court, he would give the opponent the point – as he has often in the past. “From 25 meters away, I can’t see that,” Nadal said. The Spaniard added that Goffin knew Nadal hadn’t done anything out of order, and Nadal even apologized at the net after the match. “His frustration was with the umpire, not with me,” he said.

Would the entire situation have been resolved with the use of Hawk-eye? Of course. But in this case, it should never have happened in the first place.

At the very least, Mourier should have sought the counsel of or confirmation from the baseline official who made the (original) out call, to make sure the mark he was looking at was the correct one. It didn’t appear he did that. It’s unlikely in that situation that a linesperson is going to take the initiative to make the chair umpire look foolish in front of thousands, and many more watching at home. You would hope they would; but they know who makes out the reports.

So it was a regrettable situation purely because of the umpire’s error. It didn’t need to happen.

Injured Davis Cup umpire Arnaud Gabas back at work

KEY BISCAYNE – The Davis Cup incident last month involving Canadian Denis Shapovalov and chair umpire Arnaud Gabas has had a happy ending, as the French umpire is back at work this week on the ITF women’s circuit.

Shapovalov knew immediately that he was in big, big trouble after the Davis Cup incident.

Gabas’ eye socket was fractured after Shapovalov, the 17-year-old who was put in a position to try to win a fifth and deciding rubber for Canada against Great Britain in Ottawa in early February, lost his cool and swung at a ball with all his lefty might.

It might have hit a kid in the crowd, or a teammate. It ended up getting Gabas in the eye. The fallout was that the teenager was defaulted, and Great Britain advanced.

Shapovalov was disconsolate afterwards. The incident made international headlines as the worst possible outcome of the increasing number of ball firing and racquet-smashing incidents.

It even came up last week at the Miami Open, resulting in some input from no less than Nick Kyrgios.

Shapovalov talked to Tennis.Life about the aftermath in late February, at an ITF Futures event held in Gatineau, Que. – just a few miles from the scene of the incident.

Gabas would have worked the Cherbourg Challenger and Marseille ATP event Shapovalov referenced in the interview. But he was at home recuperating. Gabas was also slated to umpire at Indian Wells and Miami.

He made his return this week at the Engie Open de Seine-et-Marne, a $60,000 (US) tournament in France.

His return was noted by Austrian player Tamira Paszek on her Snapchat feed.

Shapovalov himself Tweeted about it.

The eye doesn’t look 100 percent yet, though. And we’re told that he felt some discomfort in the eye during his first match; it may take some time to get back in “match shape” – a notion that doesn’t just apply to players, it seems!

Shapovalov’s ranking had hovered around No. 250 for more than six months after he upset Nick Kyrgios at the Rogers Cup in his Toronto hometown last summer. But he has made a big move since.

After the brief trip to France and a training week in Montreal in company of his frequent doubles partner and good pal Félix Auger-Aliassime, he has been on a tear.

Shapovalov’s singles record since then, as he begins play at a $75,000 Challenger event in Leon, Mexico Wednesday, has been a sterling 17-2.

He took the title at that Futures tournament in Gatineau (although not without losing control of his stick during a second-round match.

Shapovalov was on his way to another Futures title in Sherbrooke, Quebec when a case of food poisoning felled him before the semi-finals. Undeterred, he went up to the Challenger level and took the title in Drummondville, just outside Montreal, the following week. He followed it up with a trip to the finals at a Challenger in Guadalajara the week after that.

He defeated countryman and Davis Cup teammate Vasek Pospisil, as well as former top-15 player Jerzy Janowicz of Poland in Guadalajara.

Shapovalov’s once-stagnant ranking has now risen nearly 80 spots in a few weeks (there was no official rankings list Monday, as the ATP is in the middle of the Miami Open. Unofficially, he stands at a career-high No. 172.

The progress will be more than enough to earn Shapovalov a spot in the qualifying at the French Open in May. That comes less than a year after he won the juniors event at Wimbledon and wrapped up his junior career. A rise like this happens infrequently in the men’s game; typically it takes players a few years to get into the top 200 after making the transition.

As for Gabas, well, we’d expect to see him in Paris as well. If somehow they ended up assigned to the same court, that would truly be full circle – the happiest of endings.